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Are social connections of independent directors all the same? Evidence from corporate monitoring

Zhe Li (Accounting and Finance, University of Southern Indiana, Evansville, Indiana, USA)
Emre Unlu (Finance, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Lincoln, Nebraska, USA)
Julie Wu (Finance, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Lincoln, Nebraska, USA)

International Journal of Managerial Finance

ISSN: 1743-9132

Article publication date: 17 August 2021

Issue publication date: 26 September 2022

109

Abstract

Purpose

Studies on corporate boards examine how social ties between the CEO and independent board members affect the effectiveness of board monitoring. Much evidence suggests that social connections between the CEO and independent directors are associated with inadequate monitoring and lower firm value (Hwang and Kim, 2009; Fracassi and Tate, 2012). In this study, the authors note that social connections of the independent directors are of different nature and thus should not be treated as a homogeneous group; that is, the nature of connections among directors can be quite different from that between the CEO and directors, which is the primary focus of previous studies.

Design/methodology/approach

The authors classify independent directors into four mutually exclusive groups based on their social connections to the CEO and other independent board members and examine what role each type of connection plays in corporate monitoring using panel data and cross-sectional fixed effect regressions.

Findings

The authors find that Only_CEO%, the proportion of independent directors who are connected only to the CEO, is negatively associated with monitoring intensity. Specifically, firms with higher Only_CEO% have larger CEO compensation, lower likelihood of dismissing the CEO, more co-opted board and worse firm performance. In contrast, No_CEO_Ind%, the proportion of independent directors who have no connection to either the CEO or other independent directors is associated with more effective monitoring. These findings suggest that independent directors with different degrees of social connections exhibit different monitoring qualities.

Practical implications

When more independent directors, who are connected exclusively to the CEO, are on the board, they consistently deliver low monitoring quality. However, when more independent directors with no connections to either the CEO or any independent directors are on the board, they enhance monitoring quality. These findings can be used to construct board structures with more effective monitoring ability.

Originality/value

This paper extends the literature on social networks in corporate finance. The authors show that independent directors with exclusive connections to other independent directors do not have a significant effect on board monitoring, but those truly independent directors are associated with better monitoring quality. These findings suggest that different types of social connections of independent directors play a different role in board monitoring and help extend our understanding of the function of social connections of independent directors in corporate governance.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

The authors appreciate the comments received from session participants at the 2016 Southern Finance Association meetings and University of Nebraska-Lincoln seminar series.

Citation

Li, Z., Unlu, E. and Wu, J. (2022), "Are social connections of independent directors all the same? Evidence from corporate monitoring", International Journal of Managerial Finance, Vol. 18 No. 5, pp. 812-832. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJMF-01-2021-0049

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2021, Emerald Publishing Limited

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